School officials promise IPS students will not be left stranded Monday.
IPS Superintendent Dr. Eugene White called a meeting, Sunday afternoon, in order to make sure IPS knew what to expect, before the start of the week. IPS school officials, Durham School Services officials, and the union that represents the bus drivers and monitors, attended the meeting. It lasted about an hour.
IPS Spokesman, John Althardt said IPS was promised everything would be taken care of. "What we learned today (Sunday) is that Durham has assured us that they will have adequate numbers of drivers to transport our students to and from school –not only Monday, but for the rest of the school year," he said.
On Friday, August 17th, more than 12,000 students did not have a way to get home because contracted bus drivers (for Durham School Services) did not show up for work. Roughly 80 bus drivers did not go to work, Friday, for their afternoon route. "They all had stomach viruses. I explained to them they needed to get back to work," Union President of Local 3826, Grigitte Yancey said.
Yancey explained the bus drivers and monitors were not on strike on Friday. "Those kids were very important to them, okay. So, it wasn’t a statement made about the kids. Those kids were in a safe place. They were still in school, so, we didn’t abandon those kids," Yancey stated.
Yancey said, what happened Friday, stemmed from a number of issues between them and Durham School Services, including summer unemployment benefits, which Durham School Services stated the state of Indiana eliminated.
"This was clearly an issue that involved Durham and its bus drivers and it’s unfortunate that it involved our students," Althardt said.
Althardt said IPS was assured it would not happen again. "Our expectation is that Durham School Services and its bus drivers will adhere to the assurances and the promises they gave us -not only as professionals -but also as partners who are responsible for the safe care of these children," he said.
Althardt said Durham School Services has a contract with them until 2015. He added it wouldn’t be out of the question to re-exam that contract, if something similar happened. He stated almost anything is possible. "Dr. White made it clear. We don't ever want to see this kind of situation again and I believe all parties understand that," Althardt said.
Fox59 was the only station present after the closed door meeting wrapped up between IPS officials, Durham School Services officials, and the Local 3826. Bus drivers and monitors stood on the sidewalk, Sunday afternoon, holding signs, making sure their voices were heard. They shouted, "we want you out," when a representative with Durham School Services drove off, but cheered when their union president pulled up. Yancey seemed satisfied after the meeting.
"The company is going to get their lawyers involved with the unemployment so that you will not have to try to pay that money back. So, that's what we are working on, but I need to see everybody in the morning with your faces smiling to pick up them babies, okay," Yancey told the crowd. The crowd cheered.
Yancey told them she was proud. She said, "I am really proud of y'all."
The union promised everything would be back to normal on Monday. Yancey would not go into details about what was said in the meeting. "They are going to be at work tomorrow. The kids are going to be picked up in the morning. I guarantee you that," Yancey stated.
As far as its relationship with Durham School Services, Yancey appeared optimistic. "Well, we're hoping it does. We’re hoping it does. I think we have a strong possibility of it being fixed. Yes," she smiled.
Durham School Services had issued a statement, Saturday night, which stated the following:
"Durham School Services, which operates many of the bus routes for Indianapolis Public Schools, expects to serve students as scheduled Monday morning. Managers have been working diligently on an operations plan that would cover a driver shortage if some drivers again decide to skip work. Parents should plan to send their children to their bus stop as usual. Durham strongly believes students come first, and opposes the decision of any bus driver who puts personal interests ahead of the community. While Durham understands that some drivers are frustrated by the State of Indiana eliminating their summer unemployment benefits that matter should be addressed in an appropriate forum that doesn’t impact school children. Durham remains committed every day to the safe and reliable transportation of all Indianapolis Students."
IPS stated they have a backup plan in case something similar happens like what happened on Friday. Althardt stated they have resources to cover a shortage like doubling routes. Althardt said they were fortunate, Friday, because Pike Township offered some of their buses and drivers.
"We know there are additional resources in the community, if we need them," Althardt said.
If parents have any questions, they can call the school systems transportation department at (317) 226-4500. Althardt said people will be there, answering questions. It will be available, Monday, from 6 a.m. to 8p.m.